R4 SDHC vs. R4i SDHC & RTS Head-to-Head Review

Kickgaming was nice enough to send me these two flashcarts for reviewing. The R4 SDHC retails for $12.95 and works on the Nintendo DS (phat) and Nintendo DS Lite. The R4i costs $19.95, and as the name suggests works on all flavours of the NDS including the new Nintendo DSi.

To begin with, what is a flashcart ? Well, flashcarts are devices that allow you to play backups of your games on the Nintendo DS. Simply put, you can drag and drop roms onto a Micro-SD card, pop it into the R4/R4i, put the R4 into your Nintendo DS and start playing. The obvious benefits of this system are that you don't need to carry along tons of tiny cartridges all over the place. You can put almost 20 NDS roms onto a singe 4GB MicroSD card and simply carry that in your R4.

The R4 works with MicroSD and Micro SDHC cards. What's the difference between the two ? Well, MicroSD is an older format where cards went upto a maximum of 1GB of space. Also, these used to be fairly expensive. Micro SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards are relatively cheaper and start from 4GB onwards. There are 4 classes of SDHC cards, Class 1 being the slowest and Class 4 being the fastest. I picked up a 4GB Toshiba Micro SDHC (Class 4) card for just $10. Pretty cheap!

So to get things straight for a total cost of $22.95 for the R4 and $29.95 for the R4i (price inclusive of the SDHC card) you'll be all set to rock and roll your way into Nintendo DS paradise.

Packaging:



The R4 SDHC and R4i SDHC + RTS come in a neat packaging. The packages for both are the same size. Housed in a rectangular box the R4 (in a black case) and the R4i (in a white case) look like smart accessories for your Nintendo DS. Once you open the boxes, you'll find that inside there's the R4/R4i and another device that looks like a USB flashdrive. This device is basically a Micro SD/SDHC reader and writer. The reason that the folks at R4 have thoughtfully included this "flashdrive" is that most older flashcard readers cannot read Micro SDHC cards. This is a relatively new kind of memory card and while the card is cheap, they wouldn't want you to spend any money on the SDHC interface. There are no manuals or instructions included in the box.

Setup:

So I figured that the best way to go about this would be to put my MicroSD card, insert some games into it and pop it into the R4 for some snazzy gameplay. Wrong. The R4 and R4i both require the R4 kernel to be present on your MicroSD card. What this means is that you need to download the kernel from the R4 website "http://www.r4rts.com", unzip it, and then copy it into the root folder of your memory card. The entire kernel is about 65MB in size so it should be a quick download. It would've been nice if they would've included this setup information somewhere on the packaging. The kernel's are however regularly updated and that's a good thing since they work around various protection schemes added to the latest NDS ROMs. The last update at the time of writing this review was on the 21st of April 2010. That is, kernel 2.7a which supports Nintendo DS titles upto #4877!

Once you copy the R4 kernel onto the Micro SD card alongwith your games, you're good to go!

Slot 1 vs. Slot 2:

The R4 and R4i are second generation Nintendo DS flashcarts. What this means is that they run through Slot 1 on the Nintendo DS system. Older flashcarts used to be Slot 2 devices. This often required the use of a Passkey or similar device in Slot 1 so that you could make the Nintendo DS boot NDS files through the GBA slot. Quite a hack! With the R4 & R4i, none of this is required. All you have to do is insert your R4/R4i into the Nintendo DS' Slot 1 and you're good to go!

The benefit of having a Slot 1 flashcart of-course is that you can now use the Rumble Pack, Browser Memory Pack and more in your Slot 2 housing.

The obvious downside of a Slot 1 flashcart is that you can't run GBA games through it.

The Games:

So we come to the part that you've all been waiting for. In-game Performance. I tested the following games on the R4 & R4i:

0005 - WarioWare - Touched!
0088 - Advance Wars - Dual Strike
0396 - Brain Age - Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
0823 - Hotel Dusk - Room 215
1662 - Contra 4
1964 - Advance Wars - Days of Ruin
2002 - Professor Layton and the Curious Village
2287 - Crosswords DS
3055 - Chrono Trigger
3092 - Castlevania - Order of Ecclesia
3517 - Grand Theft Auto - Chinatown Wars
4171 - Mario & Luigi - Bowser's Inside Story
4718 - Ace Attorney Investigations Miles Edgeworth
4741 - Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing
4751 - Picross 3D
4762 - Alice in Wonderland
4780 - Pokemon HeartGold

What can I say ? EVERY single game worked flawlessly! Games such as Chrono Trigger, Grand Theft Auto and Mario & Luigi are known to have additional protection for the ROMs. Even these titles worked without any problems. No patching or funny business required! All you have to do is simply drag and drop the original ROMs onto the Micro SD card and you're good to go. How this works is that the R4 has built in auto-patching. So when a game with protection is loaded, the R4 will automatically patch it so that it works on your hardware. Nifty!

Here are some screenshots:

The RTS Feature:

The R4i comes with RTS thrown in as a feature. I tested the RTS functionality on a number of games and to be honest it falls short on most tests. The RTS works in the following way:

1. Before loading the game you have the option to select RTS On.
2. Once you do so, upon loading the flashcart will create a .RTS file for game saves.
3. Anywhere inside the game you can hit L+R+Select to reach the Save/Load/Reset screen.

While theoretically, this can be shown to be a feature, practically it's far from that. The Save/Load screen didn't show up for me for a number of games (GTA, Contra 4, to name a few..) and when it DID show up, it took almost 5 seconds to come up. Not exactly "Real Time". Besides, most handheld games are designed for Pick & Play and don't really need any more saving features. It's worth it to note here that the R4 does support the DS Sleep feature (just shut the screens) so that you can resume playing at a later stage.

However, the R4i markets itself more on the fact that it's DSi compatible. DSi compatibility and RTS saving alongwith SDHC support make for quite a kickass combination. In my opinion however, if you own a NDS or NDS Lite and have no intentions of upgrading to a DSi, stick to the cheaper R4. The RTS ability of the R4i isn't really worth the extra $7. Of-course, if you have a DSi then you have to go for the R4i.

The Options:

When you boot into the R4/R4i you're presented with 3 basic options. Games, Multimedia, Boot Slot-2. With Games you can choose to browse folders on your SD card for .NDS files and load them for playing. Choosing Multimedia launches you into Moonshell, an independently developed homebrew application that allows you to listen to songs, play some videos and even read text e-books on your DS. For those who travel with their DS strapped on, these features might be interesting the absence of another capable device. Boot Slot-2 allows you to boot into GBA games or another Slot-2 flashcart, basically this allows the R4/R4i to effectively work as a PassMe. I could successfully boot into my older M3-Lite card pretty easily. A good feature if you want to keep your GBA games on your M3 Lite and use both the cards together.

Downside:

The only real downside that exists with a Slot 1 flashcart is that you will not be able to play GBA ROMs. The reasons for this are two-fold. The Nintendo DS doesn't execute GBA code from Slot 1. This could however be done with some kind of hardware workaround similar to the PassKey running NDS code from the GBA Slot. However, the speed rating of the GBA slot is actually higher than the NDS slot and hence GBA games would always end up being laggy if run through Slot 1. You would obviously need to purchase another GBA or NDS flashcart (Slot 2) to be able to play your GBA titles on the go.

Verdict:

The R4 SDHC and the R4i SDHC & RTS are both solid well presented products. It's a little annoying that they don't tell you anywhere that you need to download the kernel files before you can use the device, however, once you're past that you're well on your way to some serious gaming fun. The drag and drop functionality is something that first generation Slot 2 flashcarts seriously lacked. You needed to go through the clunky M3 interface which only worked on Windows. With the R4 and R4i you can use any operating system (yes, Mac OS and Linux too!) and work with your flashcart. Kickgaming.com is retailing these products at extremely competitive prices and you won't regret dropping $12.95 or $19.95 on your choice of flashcart.

The RTS feature though comes off as more gimmicky than worth the extra $$$. I suggest that if you have a NDS or NDS-Lite you simpy grab the R4 SDHC and you'll be set! Of-course this won't work for the DSi so DSi owners will still have to go for the more expensive R4i. However, with the R4i you'll be guaranteed a solid flashcart that works with your DS Lite but we wary of firmware updates.

Or you could enter a contest here at emuparadise to win an R4i sometime soon : )

Thanks go out to Kickgaming.com for sending us the review samples. Definitely check them out for some great flashcarts and other video game accessories. They're well priced and SHIP WORLDWIDE! : ]

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